Sunol horse trainer named 'rookie champion' at SoCal event
After training a wild mustang in just 90 days, Sunol resident Justin Mott won "rookie champion" and captured high scores May 20 in Southern California in the Extreme Mustang Makeover.
Out of 35 horses, Syringa, fresh from the Idaho wilderness, placed first in handling and condition, third in the rural trail ride and fifth in the urban trail course. Syringa showed that she could respond to commands and perform a precise pattern of circles, spins and stops at various gaits -- not bad, considering Syringa had lived the first four years of her life in a herd in the wild. She came to Mott through the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
"Our overall score showed us that we had an overall (good) all-around horse," said Mott, 22. "She did well in the arena and on trail, not just in a specific area."
John Black, a trainer himself, and a member of the Extreme Cowboy Association Hall of Fame, was impressed.
"The physical conditioning and timing (Mott's) put into that horse was very evident," said Black, a judge in the contest. "He did a nice job with his mare. Justin is a very relaxed, very casual kind of person. So he instills a lot of confidence in the horse."
Mott -- whose JM Performance company breeds horses, trains them and offers lessons, camps and trail rides -- also reached the overall goal of the event, which is to get mustangs sold at auction and off the wild lands where they have overpopulated.
Syringa sold for $2,200 to an Alta Loma rancher, the sixth-highest price at the event. Another horse, Isabella, sold for $5,000.
For a young, strong horse this is still cheap: horses routinely sell for more than $10,000. But mustangs can be adopted for free to a good home because they are unpredictable and require intense training.
In the 90 days before the competition, trainers were reimbursed about $700 for feed, shoeing and other expenses for their wild horses. Trainers were also able to earn a 20 percent commission on what their horse sold for at auction.
In an industry in which pure breeding produces more reliable characteristics, mustangs come in a wide variety of colors, sizes and temperaments. They are not a breed, but rather a mixture of breeds that have co-mingled for hundreds of years in a land where they are not native but considered an icon just the same.
The buyers at this auction, however, were buying more than the horse: They were buying each trainer's 90 days of work with that horse. Mott is satisfied with how he trained and showed Syringa, but feels he could have done better. In fact, if a gamble had paid off, he thinks he might have won it all.
After making the top 10, all the scores were set to zero, and Mott decided to risk everything and go for number one. On the freestyle portion of the competition, in which trainers are given more freedom to showcase their horse in a wide variety of ways, Mott tried something no other trainer tried: Working at liberty.
Working Syringa at liberty meant Mott was not in contact physically with her. No reins, just visual contact, verbal and hand motions.
"If I had completed that, that's something that (nobody) has been able to do in 90 days. She was doing it at home, but horses always perform at about 70 to 75 percent of how they do at home," said Mott.
Syringa, still wild at heart, bolted toward the other mustangs that were waiting with their trainers near the gate. Just before the freestyle portion of the competition, the mustangs had run into the arena together as a herd for a show to the crowd. Mott thinks this brought Syringa back to her herd mentality, which weakened the connection with her trainer.
"There was about a dozen horses and riders waiting in that area, the horse went back to the herd, where it felt secure," said Black. Black was impressed that Mott was able to regain control of his horse, all without physical contact. "In essence the horse went back into that herd environment and then came back out to him.
"It didn't score the highest, but it did show that he had the ability, and he had the connection," said Black. "The horse lost its confidence, and he was able to get the horse all the way back away from the other horses. Pretty difficult to do with 90 days of training."
Mott, who will be married soon, plans on entering the contest again next year.
Source: Mercury News